Core Christianity: Finding Yourself In God’s Story, by Michael Horton
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.]
The praise given to this book on its back cover must be read to be believed. One reviewer from a supposed “Covenant College” states that to read this book is to “learn from a master who is not afraid to put things simply and clearly,” and another reader, an author himself, compares the author to John Stott, a Calvinist apologist of a previous generation. It is not difficult to see why this is the case. Horton, the author of books such as For Calvinism, Pilgrim Theology, A Place For Weakness, and Ordinary, writes in an engaging and witty style, and is clearly a very philosophical sort of Calvinist. For those who like reading a mild defense of Calvinism that claims total depravity is depravity over the totality of humanity’s essence rather than a total inability to have some remaining aspect of godly nature within us, Horton is the sort of Calvinist that play well with others, unlike many others . Regrettably, like many other forms of Calvinism, the author’s philosophical and highly intellectual beliefs are no more biblical than that of other. One of the most striking aspects of this book is the way that the author shows himself a textbook example of a supposed teacher of God’s ways who starts with his conclusions in mind—many of them unbiblical, like the Trinity, Christmas, postmillennialism, antinomian views on law and grace that twist Paul’s words, and so on. By blind chance, it would seem, he occasionally hits on a genuinely biblical position, such as his view of the ubiquity of covenantal lawsuits in scripture  and his biblically grounded hostility to the unbiblical view of the rapture, but these examples of getting the biblical case right where it is anything but totally obvious are few and far between—far too few for the author to be a fit teacher of the Bible for anyone. One cannot teach the truth when one does not understand it, believe it, or practice it , after all.
In terms of the content and structure of the book, the book as a whole is organized around four supposed D’s that govern our approach towards God’s word: drama (the storyline present within the Bible concerning godly belief and practice), doctrine (mostly the search for biblical proof texts of unbiblical doctrines), doxology (a fancy word for praise—like the corporate worship music of the Psalms), and discipleship (how we should live as believers, something the author has comparatively little to say about). After starting with this attempt to show why doctrine matters, the author next goes through ten chapters that cover about 150 pages whose contents are fairly easily understood, if not necessarily biblically accurate, from their titles alone: “Jesus Is God,” “God Is Three Persons,” “God Is Great and Good ,” “God Speaks,” “God Made the World but We’ve Made a Mess of It,” “God Made a Promise,” “Joy to the World!,” “Jesus is Lord,” “What Are We Waiting For?,” and “In the Meantime: Callings.” After these ten chapters there is a short afterword, some notes, and a scripture and subject index. Pages of this book goes by as the author cites Christmas songs and gives personal stories and seeks to make the Bible conform to his existing worldview, rather than seeking to read from the Bible out. Many readers will be used to people giving scriptural citations that do not say what the writer will claim, and will see little reason to be skeptical of the author’s broad brush-strokes, unless they happen to be existing opponents of his worldview, in which case they will subject this book and its author to a withering, and well-earned, criticism.
Given the fact that the book is written by someone whose acquaintance with genuine biblical doctrine is slight, of what use is a book like this if it does not teach true doctrine? There are some uses, namely that the author occasionally hits upon a true biblical doctrine as a blind squirrel will occasionally find an acorn, and that at times the author will vigorously criticize a genuinely biblical doctrine, like Origen’s subordinationism, by which God the Father is supreme and superior to Jesus Christ, who is subordinate to Him, as Jesus Himself explicitly said (see, for example: John 10:29, 8:49-50, Luke 22:42-44). In addition to these examples where a genuinely biblical doctrine appears in relief or is explicitly defended by the author, the book is useful in that it presents the way that Hellenistic Christianity is believed. The author, in a somewhat exaggerated fashion, shows the weaknesses in understanding biblical terminology like law, how people who defend such a worldview attempt to finesse the contradictions between their claims in biblical inerrancy and their failure to follow what the Bible commands, a problem none of us is immune to. On these grounds alone, as a defense of the importance of doctrine and as a vivid example of how someone can seek praise from men in defending a counterfeit Christianity and be worthy of no praise from God, the book is a suitable cautionary tale on why it was that James recommended that few be teachers, for on us will come a more difficult judgment (James 3:1).
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